In the sweaty, overcrowded, but buzzing upstairs of the Wheatsheaf pub, seven people have just come bounding on to the stage in black attire, jumping around to ‘Let’s Get It Started In Here’. It could only mean one thing, that’s right, it’s Monday night, 8pm, and Oxford’s acclaimed improvised comedy troupe, The Oxford Imps, have come to provide an expectant crowd with two hours of laughs. This is no mean feat by anyone’s standards, but considering past achievements include selling out at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, it’s no surprise that the audience laughed the whole two hours.
A lot of people in Oxford think they are funny, and some are, but more often than not jokes, sorry, banter, will tend to veer towards gags which only speakers fluent in the wondrous Oxford tongue will understand. Whilst much hilarity can indeed be found in Oxfordy in-jokes, an over indulgence in them can make the already tight Oxford bubble into something of a social noose back home. The Imps therefore choose to stay away from the “Blues humour” which can be as limiting as it is grating. Limited is not a word that could ever be attributed to a troupe which opens its arms wide to the audience for suggestions to guide the subject of each new scene.
After the show, the general response of the audience was, as one first year Maths student put it, that the Imps are “pretty awesome”. However, amongst those new to the Imps, there was also a sense of disbelief that they come up with it all on the spot. Well, having sat in on one of their rehearsals I can confirm that their legitimacy. Unlike some of the stand-up that can be seen around Oxford, or indeed on TV panel shows, the Imps’ funny factor is anchored in them working as a cohesive group, playing off each other rather than trying to play each other, or the audience, down. The night I saw them, one of the best scenes began life as the suggestion of “Russian sheds” from the audience, featuring a brilliant moment where two performers playing a pair of Russians discovered Homebase for the first time. Perhaps you had to be there. But that is the beauty of the Imps; when you pay your £3.50 at the door you know that you be will sitting down, or perhaps standing –it really does get packed – for some comedy that has never been seen or will ever be seen again. You couldn’t write it, and they didn’t.